We subscribe to the adage – be a lifelong learner. So much to learn so little time. Often when we are putting together a new class, an article for Green Living magazine or even a Blog, we will do some research about a topic. Granted we use the internet but sometimes there is so much to sort through, so often we turn to our personal library. Over the years we have collected quite a stack of books related to herbs. Most of them have been thoughtful buys, some recommended by other herbalists and maybe, just maybe, one or two we have wondered later why we purchased them. Because April is National Library week, we’d like to share some of our book finds and favorites.
With A Little Herbal Green Cleaning
March commemorates the beginning of spring. Ah, spring with thoughts of getting the garden started and playing in the dirt at last. And then it’s more rain, so let’s think about some spring cleaning while we wait for the sun to show up. We’ve been pretty much indoors for several months and the house is beginning to look and feel like the dog who just spent the last two hours in the pasture – a little smelly and not really clean. Sure we’ve vacuumed a few times, kept up with the toilet scrub brush but spring is about beginning anew and fresh scents of the outdoors. Let’s do a little more thorough cleaning, bring spring indoors before we get outdoors to enjoy it.
We tell gardeners, new and experienced, that herbs are easy to grow. They don’t require a lot of watering, maintenance, and are free of diseases and insect pests. Some herb plants even help to ward off these garden problems. Guess it is time to qualify that statement after giving it some thought because we have had some of these nuisances in our herb beds.
For the most part we don’t think too much about an aphid here or there on the lemon verbena or a slug hiding in the marjoram. At the end of the growing season many plants get powdery mildew and that’s just part of the cycle. But if there is a whole infestation of aphids, as there has been once or twice on the lemon verbena, then Super Gardener has to come to the rescue.
Winter is on us which could bring colds, sniffly noses and sore throats. It is a time when we might want to kick our immune systems into high gear. Two herbs that will enhance the body’s natural defense system are echinacea and elderberry.
Do you enjoy chai? It wasn't a tea blend that we were overly fond of, as most chai teas are based on black tea, which we don't enjoy. But we've crafted a recipe based on a few we've found online to create a rooibos or red based tea that includes some amazing immune system supportive herbs. Isn't that the way all good recipes start? Searching for what you want and need online, and gathering a couple of resources & recipes together - smooshing them just right to create the best recipe & blend for you?!
Tulsi has been honored in India as one of its most sacred plants for over 3,000 years. In ancient times it was called the “Queen of Herbs”, and considered to be the living gateway between heaven and earth. In India it is often planted in and around homes, since it is thought to bring good luck. As the herb moved along the trade routes from Asia to Europe, early Christians considered it sacred and called it “holy basil”. It is has many healthful properties and as an adaptogen, it is an herb that is useful in building and nourishing good health all around.
There are several different varieties of holy basil – some perennial and others annual. The holy basil variety that we grow is commonly known as Rama, and is an annual that we plant from seed. Like the common culinary basil, Ocimum basilicum, tulsi is native to India and western Asia. So it prefers hot weather and lots of sunshine. Here in the Northwest, we find that it is best to wait until sometime in early June to plant the tiny black seeds. The seeds will germinate in as little as 1 week or 2, and leaves should be ready for harvest in 3-4 weeks. We grow it in our veggie garden where it gets watered regularly, which helps it grow vigorously. Basils, including holy basil, can grow well in containers, just be sure to water it regularly to keep it from drying out.
Late summer provides us with a plethora of garden fresh goodies - squash, potatoes, corn and lots more! Check out these recipes that feature late summer garden fresh produce, flavored with herbs (of course!).
Ah, the good old summertime - picnics and ants, camping and mosquitoes, and hiking and poison oak. Whoa, wait a minute what happened to all the summer fun? It can still be there with a few simple herbal additions to your “preparedness” kit. Itching and rashes shouldn’t have to ruin the outdoor adventures we’re all seeking this time of year - most especially this year.
Lots of herbs are green and leafy, well almost all of them. But there is one that most of us probably don’t recognize as an herb that is full of vitamins and minerals and specifically beneficial for women’s health. This year it is being recognized by the International Herb Association (IHA) as the herb of the year. The IHA names the genus Rubus or brambles as herb of the year. The two most familiar members of this genus are blackberries and raspberries. For us in the Pacific Northwest, we are well acquainted with both – domestic and wild.
Since raspberries are in season now and the leaves are tender and young, that is the bramble we’ll focus on. Although the berries and leaves may be credited with healing properties, it is the leaves that are typically used in Chinese and European herbal medicine. Red raspberry leaves contain many vitamins and minerals, including calcium, iron, and magnesium, which are all vital for uterine health and may be lacking from the diet. The herb also contains other essential nutrients like potassium, phosphorus, and manganese and Vitamins C, A, E, and B complex.
We’ve all been being a lot more self-sufficient this spring. Depending on ourselves to take care of lots of different things – healthy food, disinfecting surfaces, keeping our families safe and taking care of minor medical issues. We have quite a medicinal herb garden at the farm and many of you have expressed interest in starting a medicinal herb garden or adding to the one you have. Since we weren’t able to hold the class we had planned for April about this very subject, we’re going to share a few insights on this month’s blog about having your own garden of healing herbs.
Having a healing garden in your own yard, brings you closer to the natural cycle of gardening and life. Planting, growing, harvesting and using herbs for healing becomes more than just a gardening process, it can be a part of daily living. From the herb tea in the morning, the yarrow poultice to stop that bleeding cut and then the herb bath to soak away the day’s stress, herbs can be a central part of our daily experiences. They certainly are for us and we like to encourage and educate others so they can enjoy herbs daily, too.
There are a few herbs that are like staples to the medicinal garden. Sage would be one with its many properties as a disinfectant and astringent often used as a remedy for many mouth and throat ills. Rosemary, another favorite, is regarded as antiseptic and astringent. Calendula, that flashy gold and yellow flower is considered mild enough even for children. Comfrey when used appropriately is an effective external remedy for mending wounds and broken bones. Catnip which has been used traditionally as a calmative. These herbs could form the basis of your garden. This is by no means an all-inclusive list, just a useful place to start.
What herbs we’ll be using
With all the information being tossed out in the news, on social media and even from friends and family, it can be difficult to parse out just what you should be doing. It can feel like you’re not prepared, you don’t know enough, and why, oh why didn’t you start or expand your herb garden last year?!
Here are some of the steps and herbs we think are important to take control of your own health during a time such as the pandemic we are experiencing now:
1. Inventory your herbs – know what you’ve got and how much; now is not the time to panic buy herbs of all kinds that may be useful. There is still so much we don’t know about this virus, and as a living entity, it can change, morph and evolve into something new and different. Its best to know what you currently have access to in your herbal pantry. If you don’t know – you can’t use it. Which leads us to the next step.
Every so often skin begins to feel dry and flaky and a good exfoliating is called for. Elbows, feet and even the face can use a good scrubbing every so often. Since scrubbing removes sloughing skin, daily grime and oils, most beauty experts recommend exfoliating your face no more than 3 times a week.
So what can you use that really cleans but scrubs naturally? The grains of both sugar and salt are natural exfoliates. Just add some herbs and oil and you’re ready to go. Since salt is more abrasive, it should be used when doing serious exfoliation such as feet or elbows. Sugar is best for sensitive skin or more fragile/dry skin such as lips or face. When adding to an oil, such as grapeseed or olive oil, sugar is a fantastic natural exfoliate. It's full of glycolic acid, which helps to naturally break down dead skin cells and decrease fine lines.
Peppermint (Menta piperita)
This favorite of the over 400 varieties of mint is grown and used both commercially and by gardeners. It is easily grown in zones 3 to 11 in sun or partial shade. Its fragrance is as pungent as its flavor and both are readily recognized. No wonder it is a favorite flavor for candies and desserts. Since many dessert recipes call for an extract - try making your own peppermint extract to keep and use in your baking or to give as a gift. While fresh works best for the extract, dried can be used. These grain free chocolate peppermint cookies will be a tasty addition to your holiday baking. Peppermint also helps stimulate digestion and alleviate headaches, so makes a terrific tea! It is not only good inside our bodies but can be used in home remedies and body care. As a key ingredient in this amazing whipped body butter, it makes for a tingly soothing foot rub. It has been given as a gift from Erin many times and it's been very well received.
These are a few of our favorite things!
As herb lovers, we often get questions at classes and events regarding what are some of our favorite tools, our favorite herbs, and great books. So for fun, we thought we’d use this month’s blog to create a list of a few of our favorite herbal things. Maybe it will help you find something for the upcoming holidays for the herbal lover in your life.
Books and Magazines
Looks like it’s really cooling down, just in time for Autumn Solstice. And just in time to move that peppermint we’ve been eyeing all summer to its new spot in a raised bed. We started the move last spring, but summer overtook us and we weren’t able to completely get all the plants to their new home. Because summer is not typically a good time to re-position plants, we had peppermint in two spots. Early fall is a good time to move and propagate plants. With cooler temperatures, rain and some sunny days, plants have a good chance to get a good root base started before they need to hibernate for the winter.
Maybe you’ve been wanting an extra thyme or some other valued herb. Rather than looking for an actual plant, it is fairly easy to propagate from your mother plants. Here are some methods for propagating perennial herb plants that we have used and found successful.
Herbal iced teas can be refreshing on a hot summer day while providing us some great benefits from the herbs included. Peppermint, chamomile, catnip and much more can create tasty, beneficial and cooling herbal iced tea. Its easy to make a larger batch to store in the fridge for the week.
Our method is simple (as we always prefer!) – walk the garden with some clippers or scissors and snip handfuls of what calls to you. Follow your nose, blending the fresh herbs that say “Pick me, pick me!” as you walk around. You can start out with slightly smaller batches, as you get to know what you like. Cut stems about 6 inches long, as if you were gathering a bouquet – well, actually you are gathering a bouquet – a tea bouquet! We recommend a good handful of fresh herbs – where you can barely close your fingers together.
As summer approaches and becomes official on June 21st, the first of the summer vegetables begin to appear. Thank goodness for the May rains which kept our gardens watered and the few days of heat that helped those seeds we so diligently planted, pop open and spring forth from the warm earth. The garden at the farm has a few peas ready to cling to the fence, reach for the sky and set forth their tasty pods. Green beans are popping up as well as lettuce and spinach. The tiny feathery carrot leaves can barely be seen but we know they’ll grow tall and by fall we’ll have the orange carrots that we love and store through the winter. The potatoes are planted and summer squashes are going in the ground this week, as well as corn and parsnips.
Since June is Eat Your Veggies month and June 10th is celebrated as National Herb Day, let’s consider the herbs (although you may be missing basil, you should have lots of other herbs to enjoy) that will bring out the flavor of those first vegetables of summer such as spinach and greens of all kinds, sugar pod peas and shelling peas, zucchini, green beans, broccoli and radishes. Here are a few recipes to try for serving those first veggies of summer.
With truly warm (dare we say “hot”?!) weather arriving soon, we are reminded that it is almost time to plant basil. Basil has been a favorite herb of cooks for centuries. It is a window sill herb in many Mediterranean households. Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is an annual from the Mediterranean region that grows 1 to 2 feet tall. It is genus name is the ancient Greek word for “king”. This small bush, deep green plant prefers full sun and warm temperatures to grow well. It is commonly associated with Italian cooking, especially pesto, but there are many more uses beyond the kitchen.
Many herbs get added to our herb beds by serendipity. While perusing the farmers market or a plant sale, there is often an herb that jumps out at us – one that we haven’t seen before, and are intrigued by. We may not know anything about it, but our plant senses tell us it needs to be ours. So we take it home, find a spot for it and then watch it grow, all while learning as much as we can by observing it and also doing research. This is how anise hyssop came to join the farm and her herb sisters.
Anise Hyssop is the herb of the year as selected by The International Herb Association for 2019 and then be recognized by the Herb Society of America as the Herb of the Month last year in anticipation of its big year in 2019.
Getting Ready to Spring into Action!
Spring for the herb gals at Garden Delights means we are getting ready not just to begin harvesting and finalize some cleanup but to set and get started on our yearly class series. Our classes are a time to share information and to answer burning questions about all things herbal, secretly one of things we like to do best. We sometimes make presentations to local groups and at once such recent event we were asked about fertilizing herb plants. Most of us think of our perennial herbs plants as sturdy hardy souls who require little attention. That’s part of the beauty of growing them. We did answer the question presented to us and would like to share that information with you.
Herb plants are kind of stuck in one place, unless we move them, so consequently over time they use all the nutrients in their soil. To keep plants healthy and maintain growth for continued harvests, we have to help them have a good source of nutrients which means a shot of fertilizer. A great time for this nutrient shot is in spring which will officially occur this month, so read on to get all the info on how to renew our hardy herb friends with some nutrients.
All information on this website is for educational purposes only and is not meant to help you diagnose, treat, or cure any illness. It has not been evaluated by the FDA.